The Theoretics of Love

Joe Taylor


Can Dr. Clarissa Circle keep herself off the autopsy table?

Fresh out of school, anthropologist Dr. Clarissa Circle finds herself thrust into a mysterious forensic investigation after exposing what was thought to be a Native American burial ground as a mass grave of not-so-recently murdered bodies. Was a cult behind the killings? Were these ritual murders?

Hired as a consultant to the local police department, Circle spends half her time dusting bones and the other half knocking boots with homicide detective Willy Cox and an aging hippy who goes by the name Methuselah. A double suicide is discovered, and the plot thickens. Other disturbing events unfold, and questionable characters surface and collide in this kaleidoscopic murder mystery/ love story that is also madcap fun.

ISBN, trade paper: 978-1-58838-330-3, $28.95          


  "An intelligent, deeply felt, quirky, and original novel that lives up to its ambitions." - Kirkus Reviews



  About the Author:  Joe Taylor spent a good part of his life in Kentucky, where he earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy at UK. He worked as a waiter in West Palm Beach before moving to Tallahassee to earn his Ph.D. in creative writing.





Excerpt from the Book:

1.    Monkey Meat


Year 1999-2000

(Clarissa, Willy, Methuselah, Pebble)



It wasn’t Knoxville’s infamous bone farm that pushed me into forensic anthropology, but books: Keep the River on Your Right and Fires on the Plain. Keep the River poses as cultural anthropology. I found it in a used bookstore, and since its cover depicted a goldenly flowing Amazon where my boyfriend and I might someday canoe, I hugged it to my post-teenage bosom and scooted money across a glass counter—carefully because the storeowner was a moist-handed pervert. Once home, I found River to be a New York Jew’s South American field diary of becoming . . . not a hip New Ager, but a cannibal. Jane Austen and her wannabe nymphs paled, they fainted. Two weeks later I blundered back to the store, where the wet owner puffed wet lips: “Didya enjoy Schneebaum?” I blinked at his jism-caked black hair. “Keep the River on Your Right,” his voice wheezed.  You bought it two Saturdays back. Didya enjoy it?” He leaned backward for another book, creaking his stool and giving me an eyeful of belly button. He licked two fingers before handing over the last of my life-changing duo: Fires on the Plain. “This one’s just as good. I’ve been saving it just for you.” This one was also about cannibalism. “Ee-e! Monkey meat, monkey meat,” its Japanese narrator keeps giggling as he eats dying comrades on some Pacific World War II island.

            Thus were delivered the cultural shards that broke my literary spine (to tangle a cliché). To the horror of friends and professors, I moved from English to anthropology, reading Levi-Strauss so thickly that my roommate began sneaking out with my boyfriend. Drunk, they wrecked his car. He died; she went into physical rehab, never to be heard from again. “Monkey meat, monkey meat,” I chanted to my empty apartment. “Ee-e!”

            But to claim those books pushed me into forensic anthropology isn’t quite true. At a lunch hour on anthropology’s second floor I spied two female graduate students reassembling a skeleton. They hovered like miniature goddesses, and I gawped until they motioned me in—on the sly since I hadn’t had a hepatitis shot. Becoming as wired and glued as those skeletal bones, I pursued a Ph.D. in forensic anthropology, so engrossed that upon finishing my dissertation the only political news I could envision was the Gulf War at one end, which frolicked like an endless fireworks display, and Monica Lewinsky at the other end, which frolicked like an endless Altoids commercial. Monkey meat, monkey meat framed my life. If we humans don’t eat one another literally, we do so figuratively. Only short mandibles keep us from gnawing one another’s raw hams. I even theorized that we’d live better as honest cannibals, for we’d undergo some meaningful human contact, if only gustatory. (As you can see, whatever culture three years as an idealistic English major instilled, my ex-roommate, my dead boyfriend, and forensic science distilled.)

            Still, compromise asserted itself, and my monkey meat mantra publicly fluffed into, “No one ever touches anyone.”







            Ever, never, ever.

            I remained near my alma mater’s Knoxville campus to complete a year of post-doctoral consultation at the sly instigation of my committee chair, who hinted that a university “northward” would soon announce a lucrative opening. So I farmed my dissertation into three reputable papers. More importantly, I solved a grisly double murder as county consultant. Flesh had been boiled off the bones of twin murders that surfaced on a Native American mound after a buckling freeze. The local sheriff, a drunken weekend country guitar player like my runaway dad, assumed they belonged to long-dead Injuns—his term—but grudgingly called me in since the county was already wasting—his term again—a consultation fee. After a rudimentary inspection, any first-year doctoral student could have ticked off suspicions: Don’t these bones emit a smell of rotting meat? Don’t they give a greasy feel? Aren’t they fresh-dead white instead of gray-brown from absorbing the surrounding earth’s chemicals? The list theoretically could have meandered to carbon-14, though save for the Kennewick Man that method rarely plays in North America.

Voila! Murders recognized (and soon prosecuted) and my watered-down, popularized dissertation picked up by a university press whose publicity manager hyped a photo-op of me atop that burial mound balancing two skulls in my two manicured hands.

In truth, what tipped me off wasn’t the age of the bones but the fact that the skeletons weren’t buried east-west as the surrounding Native Americans were. Instead, one lay at a forty-degree variance, the other twenty degrees off true east. Then my olfactory did come into play, for a good deal of marrow—albeit cooked—remained in the larger bones. Half-frozen, they emitted no smell, but the lab reeked ten hours later as pelvises, femora, humeri, and tibias thawed, belonging to one male and one female, Caucasian brand.

So I performed the dating jazz that helped convict the murderer, a disgruntled lover. Not long after, my dissertation director delivered the promised hot tip about a northward academic/forensic post. So in 1999, at just two days over thirty-two, I found myself moving over the Smoky Mountains like Daniella Boone, to teach at the University of Kentucky.